Noticing how we talk

Oli Barrett talks about an entrepreneurs forum with a simple ground rule: speak only from experience.

Entrepreneurs love to give advice and all too often, they quite literally don’t know what they are talking about. During ‘Forum’ meetings, the principle is followed. Afterwards, perhaps at the bar, members are welcome to tell each other what they ‘really think’ someone should do, what their ‘hunch’ is, or what they would do in the same situation. But during Forum, experience beats guesswork every time.

I think guidelines like this relatively minor one can have an amazing impact. Anything that disrupts our default mode for conversation is going to change our perspective and make us pay attention to a process we otherwise take for granted.

I’ve noticed that I’m retelling this story a lot at the moment. We easily lose sight of how our thinking shapes our experience, and conversation is one of the ways we think together. It’s easy to miss the many ways in which unquestioned rituals of conversation shape, and limit, our experience.

I guess I’m more aware of this as someone who goes to meetings for a living. I see meetings in all sorts of organisations in all sorts of places… and I think I become more conscious of the cliches we can slip into. Among the habits I think people don’t notice are interruption, giving advice, unconsciously trying to top other people’s stories and many other forms of “talking or reloading”.

I’ve done some work recently asking groups to suspend the normal patterns of interruption, and it takes a bit of getting used to. But the effect can be profound in terms of creating a different, and I would say deeper, sense of connection. People start to realise that many of the little interruptions that they suspend turn out to quite unnecessary to their understanding of and connection to the story being told.

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